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Smuggling by diplomats

Posted May. 03, 2011 01:32,   


Ivory from elephant tusks, a popular material for artifacts, is widely trafficked due to shortages amid excessive demand. The ivory is also very expensive in fetching up to 1,800 U.S. dollars per kilogram on the black market. Chinese companies have advanced into Africa en masse to seek ivory, leading critics to blast the rise of China for killing African elephants. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, which bans the catching and trafficking of wildlife that is endangered or requires protection has failed to stop greedy traffickers from seeking illegal profits. According to a report issued by the U.S. Congress, the black market value of animals on the endangered species list that are traded exceeds 20 billion dollars per year.

A diplomat who recently returned to Korea after heading a mission in an African country has been caught by customs officials for trying to smuggle in 16 pieces of ivory in his luggage. The ivory weighed 60 kilograms and has an estimated worth of more than 100 million won (91,000 dollars) on the black market. This was Korea`s first seizure of illegally smuggled ivory since it joined the convention in 1993. It is bad enough that a Korean diplomat embarrassed his country with the crime but he made the doubtful claim that he was unaware because he instructed a local employee to pack his belongings.

North Korean diplomats have been infamous for smuggling since the 1980s. They smuggled all kinds of items as long as they could make money from them, be it bullions, diamonds, ivory, tobacco or narcotics. They also have had all different purposes, including mobilization of costs for the operation of their overseas missions, foreign currency earning, or a diplomat`s individual bid to make money. The North Korean diplomats have used diplomatic immunity as a defense for smuggling. Whenever they are caught smuggling, South Koreans feel ashamed, saying “shame on the Korean people.”

When overseas travel was a rarity, Koreans used to bring in personal seals inscribed overseas on ivory pieces as souvenirs. As public recognition of the need to protect endangered species has spread, even ordinary people do not buy ivory souvenirs overseas. If it were only a single piece of ivory, the busted diplomat`s ivory could be considered a souvenir. As many as 16 pieces of ivory was smuggled, however, the diplomat can be seem as suspicious of selling them for profit in Korea. This fiasco has damaged the morale of the Korean diplomats who work hard amid tough working and living environments in Africa. The Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry is facing another shameful incident less than two months after a Chinese woman in Shanghai was found to have gotten secrets from Korean diplomats she had affairs with. The ivory incident apparently suggests a collapse of the overall work principles among Korean diplomats.

Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (jinnyong@donga.com)